NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations on Friday defended federal guidelines for monitoring health workers returning from three Ebola-stricken West African countries while urging greater coordination to contain the outbreak in Guinea.
There is a growing controversy in the United States over some states ordering 21-day quarantines for nurses and doctors returning after treating Ebola patients, an idea that medical experts have criticized.
The ambassador, Samantha Power, said current federal rules balanced “the need to respond to the fears that this has generated” with the known science on the disease. She also praised the airlines that continue to fly to countries battling Ebola outbreaks.
“Let me commend Air Brussels, Air France and Moroccan Airways for keeping their flights going. Those flights are a lifeline,” Power said at a Reuters Newsmaker event in New York hours after returning from a four-day trip to Ebola-hit Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
Ebola, which has killed about 5,000 people in the three countries, is transmitted through the bodily fluids of an infected person and is not airborne.
Some states, including New York and New Jersey have gone beyond the U.S. guidelines with isolation periods for health workers equivalent to the maximum time it can take for Ebola to develop.
Power said she was considered at low risk for contracting the virus because she did not have direct contact with Ebola patients. She said she had her temperature taken three times before boarding a plane home from Liberia and was checked again upon arrival at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Several U.S. politicians have called for an outright ban on travelers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, which government and aid organizations said would hurt efforts to control the outbreak at its source by deterring medical volunteers.
Power said health officials are capable of self-monitoring with regular checks for symptoms, such as fever, diarrhea and vomiting. She herself will be reporting her temperature twice daily to New York state’s health department for the next 20 days.
The envoy had high praise for countries that have people on the ground battling the epidemic, including Cuba, with which the United States has had strained relations for decades, and China.
Havana has sent more than 260 medical professionals and plans on assigning 200 more, the biggest foreign contingent of medical workers deploying to West Africa.
Power described a “hopeful sign” in Libera where U.S. and Liberian soldiers and Chinese workers together unloaded supplies from an Air China cargo plane.
The United States has been coordinatoring the foreign response in Liberia, with Britain doing the same in Sierra Leone. Power was asked whether France’s response in Guinea, a former French colony, has been inadequate.
“There’s a command-and-control issue in Guinea,” she said. “I think the French, because of the French-speaking aspect of this, could play an important role.”
Power said the two keys to managing an Ebola outbreak are coordination and information management.
“Those two features of the response now are evident in Liberia and Sierra Leone,” she said. “They have the idea for it in Guinea but not yet the implementation, and I think the French can help with that.”
France announced this week it was stepping up its response plans, which include more money, hospital beds and health worker training centers. A French official told Reuters in Paris that France could not have responded more quickly due to the remote location of the epicenter of the virus.
Additional reporting by Marine Pennetier in Paris; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Grant McCool